Key Excerpt: Sessions on if Sotomayor's Background Would Create Bias
SESSIONS: So first, I'd like to know, do you think there's any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making?
SOTOMAYOR: Never their prejudices. I was talking about the very important goal of the justice system is to ensure that the personal biases and prejudices of a judge do not influence the outcome of a case.
What I was talking about was the obligation of judges to examine what they're feeling as they're adjudicating a case and to ensure that that's not influencing the outcome. Life experiences have to influence you. We're not robots to listen to evidence and don't have feelings. We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside. That's what my speech was saying ...
SESSIONS: Well, Judge ...
SOTOMAYOR: ... because that's our job.
SESSIONS: But the statement was, "I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage, but continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate." That's exactly opposite of what you're saying, is it not?
SOTOMAYOR: I don't believe so, Senator, because all I was saying is, because we have feelings and different experiences, we can be led to believe that our experiences are appropriate. We have to be open- minded to accept that they may not be, and that we have to judge always that we're not letting those things determine the outcome. But there are situations in which some experiences are important in the process of judging, because the law asks us to use those experiences.
SESSIONS: Well, I understand that, but let me just follow up that you say in your statement that you want to do what you can to increase the faith and the impartiality of our system, but isn't it true this statement suggests that you accept that there may be sympathies, prejudices and opinions that legitimately can influence a judge's decision? And how can that further faith in the impartiality of the system?
SOTOMAYOR: I think the system is strengthened when judges don't assume they're impartial, but when judges test themselves to identify when their emotions are driving a result, or their experience are driving a result and the law is not.
SESSIONS: I agree with that.
SESSIONS: I know one judge that says that if he has a feeling about a case, he tells his law clerks to, "Watch me. I do not want my biases, sympathies or prejudices to influence this decision, which I've taken an oath to make sure is impartial." I just am very concerned that what you're saying today is quite inconsistent with your statement that you willingly accept that your sympathies, opinions and prejudices may influence your decision-making.
SOTOMAYOR: Well, as I have tried to explain, what I try to do is to ensure that they're not. If I ignore them and believe that I'm acting without them, without looking at them and testing that I'm not, then I could, unconsciously or otherwise, be led to be doing the exact thing I don't want to do, which is to let something but the law command the result.
SESSIONS: Well, yesterday, you also said that your decisions have always been made to serve the larger interest of impartial justice, a good -- good aspiration, I agree. But in the past, you've repeatedly said this: "I wonder whether achieving the goal of impartiality is possible at all in even most cases and I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women, men or people of color we do a disservice to both the law and society." Aren't you saying there that you expect your background and -- and heritage to influence your decision-making?
SOTOMAYOR: What I was speaking about in that speech was -- harkened back to what we were just talking about a few minutes ago, which is life experiences to influence us, in good ways. That's why we seek the enrichment of our legal system from life experiences.
That can affect what we see or how we feel, but that's not what drives a result. The impartiality is an understanding that the law is what commands the result.
And so, to the extent that we are asking the questions, as most of my speech was an academic discussion about, what should we be thinking about, what should we be considering in this process, and accepting that life experiences could make a difference. But I wasn't encouraging the belief or attempting to encourage the belief that I thought that that should drive the result.
July 14, 2009; 11:12 AM ET
Categories: Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: Personal Comments & Experiences
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